A Christmas cross high atop an Illinois water tower has been taken down after an out-of-town group threatened a lawsuit – leaving residents heartbroken and angry.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation originally contacted officials in Alsip, Ill. last year and told them the cross violated the so-called “separation of church and state.” The Wisconsin-based group warned the village that unless the cross was removed – it could face a long legal battle.
“We work to keep religion out of government,” FFRF co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor told the Southtown Star. “Towns can’t put crosses on public structures such as water towers because we have separation between religion and government.”
Freedom From Religion Foundation said they were acting on a complaint they allegedly received last year from a resident of the village.
However, Mayor Patrick Kitching told local media that no one has ever complained about the cross – first erected atop the water tower in 1973. He said he was offended by the outcome.
“It’s a tradition – and our tradition has been slapped down,” he told the newspaper. “They told me an anonymous person complained. I doubt that. I think they were driving down the toll way and saw our cross.”
The Christmas cross is not too hard to miss. The lighted symbol is 19-feet tall – and is hoisted atop the water tower every holiday season.
Kitching said he feared a possible lawsuit and the amount of money it would take to fight the out-of-state group.
“In these economic times, the village cannot afford to waste any tax dollars on a lawsuit that simply cannot be won,” he wrote in a letter to local residents and businesses.
Freedom From Religion Foundation told the village that the cross “demonstrates the village’s preference of Christianity over all other faiths and impermissibly advances religion over non-religion. Such a government endorsement of Christianity is unconstitutional.”
Kitching said they plan on replacing the cross with a tree. He said they won’t call it a “Christmas” tree to avoid problems.
“I thought about putting up a 30-foot Grinch, but I couldn’t find one,” Kitching told the newspaper.